A secure electoral system is a vital component of a healthy democracy, and the public must have confidence that our elections are secure and fit for the 21st century. Asking voters to bring photographic identification to their polling station is an important way of achieving this and the Elections Act puts such a requirement into law. This is part of a wider package of measures in the Elections Act to strengthen electoral integrity – including by tackling postal and proxy voting fraud, tackling intimidation, increasing transparency of digital campaigning, and preventing foreign interference in elections.
Identification to vote has been backed by the Electoral Commission and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which state that its absence is a security risk. Without a requirement for identification at the polling station, it is harder to take out a library book or collect a parcel at a post office than it is to vote in someone else’s name.
In Northern Ireland voters have been required to produce personal identification before voting in polling stations since 1985, with photographic identification being required since 2003 when introduced by the last Labour Government. Ministers at the time noted that “the Government [has] no intention of taking away people’s democratic right to vote. If we believed that thousands of voters would not be able to vote because of this measure, we would not be introducing it at this time.”
The Electoral Commission has also commented that “since the introduction of photo ID in Northern Ireland there have been no reported cases of personation. Voters’ confidence that elections are well-run in Northern Ireland is consistently higher than in Great Britain, and there are virtually no allegations of electoral fraud at polling stations.” I should add that the Electoral Commission's 2021 Public Opinion tracker recorded that not a single Northern Ireland respondent reported: ‘I don’t have any identification / I would not be able to vote’.
Anyone without a form of identification will be able to apply for a new free Voter Authority Certificate, meaning that no voter will be disenfranchised.
The Elections Act 2022 sets out a wide range of photographic identification documents which can be used to vote at the polling station. This includes a UK passport or a passport issued by an EEA state or a Commonwealth country. A driving licence or provisional driving licence granted in Great Britain or Northern Ireland will also be accepted. Expired forms of identification will be accepted as long as the photograph is a good enough likeness.
You can find a full list of the accepted identification documents here: https://www.gov.uk/how-to-vote/photo-id-youll-need
Anyone who does not possess one of these forms of photographic identification can apply for free for a Voter Authority Certificate online at GOV UK. There is also the option to apply by post.
The Elections Act makes provision for a wide range of photographic identification to be used for voting at the polling station. These documents have been carefully chosen with security and accessibility in mind.
Identification that does not show a photograph of the elector cannot provide an appropriate level of proof to prevent personation at the polling station. It is also worth noting that not all forms of photographic identification comply with the same rigorous security checks. I am concerned that using these forms of identification could undermine the very protection and security that introducing the use of identification at the polling station will put in place.
Data published by the Cabinet Office in 2021 shows that 98 per cent of electors already own one of the documents specified in the Elections Act. Expired forms of identification will also be accepted so long as the photograph is of a good enough likeness. Moreover, anyone without identification can apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate from their local authority. The Elections Act includes provision to update the list of acceptable identification in the future, in recognition that available forms of identification will change over time.
The Electoral Commission is running a public awareness campaign to ensure all electors are aware of the new photographic identification requirements. I understand that the Government engaged with civil society organisations representing marginalised groups to support the Electoral Commission in creating its campaign. I have been assured that the Government will continue to work with the Electoral Commission to ensure all voters are aware of the new requirement.
In addition, the size of poll cards is being increased so that information can be added about the new requirement to bring photographic identification to the polling station. In pilots of photographic identification run by the Cabinet Office in 2019, 58 per cent of participants cited poll cards as a main source of information, suggesting they are an effective form of communication.
I firmly agree that the voter identification process should be as accessible as possible. A wide range of forms of photographic identification will be accepted. Expired identification will be accepted so long as the photo is of a good enough likeness. Anyone without an approved form of identification can apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate. In addition to applying on GOV UK, there is also the option to apply by post or in person. The Voter Authority Certificate application form is available in easy read and large print.
I have been assured that the Government will continue to engage with civil society organisations on this matter. I also understand that the Electoral Commission will be making available bespoke resources to support people with disabilities with the new photographic identification requirements.
I appreciate the concerns about identification at polling stations but introducing identification to vote was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment in 2019. The Organisation for the Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Electoral Commission have both expressed concern about the current system and recommended the use of identification at polling stations.
A report published by Sir, now Lord, Eric Pickles in 2016 recommended the introduction of providing identification before voting. The report acknowledged that the number of allegations was low and cases of prosecution were rare. It also explained, however, that the significant vulnerability highlighted by expert organisations and the fact that 80 per cent of the registered electorate vote at polling stations gave rise to a risk that needed to be addressed.
I would also like to stress that the act of assuming the identity of another person with the intention to deceive, known as personation, is very difficult to prove and prosecute. There are, however, frequent anecdotal reports of personation, including most recently during the 2021 local elections. Cases of voter fraud are often only uncovered when the real voter subsequently tries to vote, which is why voter identification is so important - it virtually eliminates the risk of personation occurring in the first place.
The Association of Electoral Administrators, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and the National Police Chiefs’ Council have all expressed support for an identification requirement.
The requirement to show photographic identification will apply when voting in person at polling stations. Separately, the Government has laid out plans to introduce identity verification for all absent vote applications and an online absent vote application service to allow electors to apply for a postal or proxy vote online. I understand that details of how these plans would work will be set out in secondary legislation in due course.
Data gathered by the Cabinet Office shows that 99 per cent of people from ethnic minority background had a form of identification that would be accepted, as did 98 per cent of people who identify as white. A total of 99 per cent of 18-29-year-olds hold the relevant identification and 98 per cent of those aged 70 and over do too.
Finally, I can assure you that the Government is working to ensure that all eligible voters continue to be able to vote. The Elections Act makes clear that local authorities are required to provide a free Voter Authority Certificate to anyone who needs it. A Cabinet Office evaluation of the identification pilot scheme in 2019 also found that locally issued identification had a positive benefit for homeless electors who were able to use it to access other local public services including a local job centre.